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view from backseat of a female driver wearing headphones while driving on highway

Many drivers listen to music, play podcasts, or make phone calls while driving. Statistically, there’s a good chance that you’re one of them. While you may view your time in the car as a chance to unwind, distracted driving is dangerous and can cause deadly accidents. Some motorists increase the risk even more by wearing headphones behind the wheel. While earbuds and headphones allow you to fully immerse yourself in what’s playing, they also block out the sounds of the road. For example, you may not hear a siren or realize another driver is honking. Drivers erroneously think keeping their eyes on the highway is the only thing needed to remain safe, but being alert to sound is also crucial. Some states have begun cracking down on headphones while operating a car. This raises an important question. Is it illegal to wear headphones in Ohio while driving a motor vehicle? And how do Ohio laws differ from other states?

Ohio Driving Laws Involving Headphones

In Ohio, headphone use is illegal while driving. Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.84 explains the specifics of the law. The code states, “no person shall operate a motor vehicle while wearing earphones over, or earplugs in, both ears.” (Earphones are a device that covers all or some of both ears and either provides hearing protection or allows the listener to access music, radio programs, or other information — for example, noise-canceling headphones or AirPods that connect to a phone.) The law was first enacted in 2004 and later revised in 2020. There are several exemptions to the rule, which we’ll explore in another section. 

National Driving Laws for Headphone Usage

You may be surprised to learn that Ohio is an outlier compared to the rest of the country. In many states, driving with headphones is still legal. The laws vary in the states that surround Ohio. Headphone use is legal in Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Michigan. Pennsylvania doesn’t allow headphones unless a driver uses only one earbud during a cell phone call. Many people may not realize the danger of headphone use or even realize that their state has made the behavior illegal. Research has shown that headphone use slows a driver’s reaction time by more than four seconds, and safety advocates have pushed for more states to ban headphones and earbuds.

One Ear vs. Two Ear

The safest choice for drivers is to avoid headphones and earbuds altogether. But if a driver needs to use headphones or earbuds, covering only one ear is a less risky way. Ohio law only forbids drivers from blocking or being inserted in both ears, meaning you can use one earbud or headphones on one ear while on the road. Having one ear unobstructed will allow you to better hear important sounds like sirens. While states can refuse exceptions and ban headphones in all cases, many take Ohio’s approach and enable drivers to use only one earbud while behind the wheel.

Ohio Headphone Law Exemptions

While Ohio car and truck drivers are held to the same standard with headphones, motorcyclists have more freedom. In 2020, the Governor signed a law allowing motorcyclists to wear earplugs for hearing protection while on the road. Supporters of the legislation said that motorcycle riders are susceptible to hearing damage from high winds. 

The Ohio headphone law also includes exemptions for the following: 

  • Any person wearing hearing aids
  • On-duty law enforcement, fire department, and emergency medical service personnel
  • Highway maintenance and repair employees
  • Garbage equipment operators

In these circumstances, you can drive with both ears covered and aren’t subject to the same penalties if stopped by a law enforcement officer. It’s important to note that the work-related exceptions only apply to on-duty workers. For example, an off-duty firefighter couldn’t legally use two earbuds while driving. Earphones don’t include speakers or other listening devices built into protective headgear, like motorcycle helmets. 

If the above categories don’t apply to you, wearing headphones while driving in Ohio can lead to a minor misdemeanor charge, which carries no jail time and a fine of up to $150. However, if within one year of the offense, you have been previously convicted of a predicate motor vehicle or traffic offense, then the charge becomes a fourth-degree misdemeanor. Driving with headphones is a third-degree misdemeanor if you have been convicted of two or more predicate motor vehicle or traffic offenses within one year. 

When drivers ignore the law and choose to multitask, the results can be devastating. Distracted driving is a problem in Ohio and causes entirely preventable wrecks. If you’re involved in an Ohio car wreck and other involved parties were wearing headphones while driving or otherwise distracted with the use of a cell phone, they can be held liable for your injuries and losses. The Ohio car wreck attorneys at Murray & Murray represent car wreck victims statewide and help them get the compensation they deserve. Contact us at (419) 624-3000 or online today.

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